Test-Optional Colleges Can Mean The End of the SAT’s

Posted on April, 24, 2023 by

When test-optional college admissions started to become more mainstream I gave it serious side-eye.  I thought, what’s the catch because there is no way after 97 years (63 for the ACT’s), these standardized tests are going to come to a full stop. They are so ingrained in the college admission culture I couldn’t imagine them just disappearing. Is it possible that the popularity of test-optional colleges can mean the end of the SATs and ACTs?

I did some digging and learned Covid played a big part in the move toward test-optional applications.  Due to the lockdown, all test dates were cancelled in the spring of 2020. Colleges had no choice, they had to eliminate standardized test scores, or they would have had no applicants.  Now that the pandemic has faded, many colleges have still not reinstated SAT/ACT scores as an admission requirement.

Over the years, the subject of “fairness” has loomed over the tests. The SAT’s were considered biased, favorable toward certain socio-economic groups and unfavorable toward others.  Security breaches and logistical problems have also plagued the tests.  If the test is eliminated, these issues would clearly go away, not to mention the anxiety taking the SAT’s produces among college applicants.

If a bright student consistently earned below-average grades in high school, odds are they will do so in college as well. But a bright student who did not perform as well on the SAT but aced Honors and AP classes, well that’s another story.  Depending on their target college, students who did very well in regular high school classes will likely do well in college too. I am aware that I am painting in broad strokes, and this is not true for most students, but it’s not not true either.

Not too long-ago students were getting admitted to upper-tier colleges based on their close-to-perfect test scores. Being able to say that your college only admits students with the highest test scores is a powerful marketing tool. But here is the thing; high SAT scores do not necessarily mean a student will succeed in college.  It is not uncommon for a very bright student with high SAT scores to get asked to leave school due to poor grades. “Smart” and “motivated” are often different species.*

It has always been my theory, backed by copious amounts of research, that colleges should emphasize high school performance history and the difficulty of classes taken to determine the chances of a student succeeding at their school. Extra-curriculars, part-time jobs, interviews, and so on would be the next level of importance to determine the chances of a student succeeding at their school.

Currently, there are 1,835 colleges in the US that are test-optional. The future of standardized college admissions tests remains to be seen, but I truly hope this trend will become the norm in the near future.

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*Note: There are many other reasons students leave school other than lack of motivation.